Today I sat in on a high school assembly. This may be an obvious point, but can we take a moment to thank God we're not in high school any more? Unless, of course, you are in high school. Then, hey--don't worry, it'll be over soon. But this is not my point. Tomorrow evening is the homecoming football game and this was part of the week-long festivities. A thousand awkward teenagers (with a dozen or so freakishly attractive adolescents mixed in just to make everyone else feel the weight of their inferiority) were jammed onto the gym bleachers. There was a drum line, perky cheerleaders, a balloon arch and the necessary grunting football players standing off to the side. They would have their time, but event began with the speeches from the homecoming king and queen candidates.
Which is why I was sitting in this hormone laboratory in the first place. Our son, Cade, is one of these candidates. Yep. I'm a proud mom. This kid, who moved from Arizona in the middle of his freshman year has done the difficult work of acclimating to a new culture while remaining true to who he is through arguably, some of the most confusing years of life. This is no small feat and I'm taking this moment to soak in the reality that as his childhood and adolescence winds down, he's entering adulthood having already weathered some character building seasons.
I remember my counselor telling me how hard it is to develop faith in our kids because it requires that we allow them to be in situations that build faith. It's much easier to rescue and protect our kids than to entrust them to God or allow them to fall and fail. I'm not talking about negligence or laziness (although I probably over-spiritualized my refusal to assist on science fair projects). I mean the disciplined, soul-wrenching work of learning when to intervene and when to let them fall. And then trusting something good can come out of your mistakes.
That's what I saw today. A man who is growing in character and faith. A man who is learning to be gracious in adversity and affirmation. The young man (and I use that term loosely) who gave his speech before Cade apparently mistook the assignment as a roast of all the other candidates and, I have to admit, my mama feathers were riled when he took a verbal jab at my son. When I asked Cade about it after school he just laughed. He hadn't been offended at all. Which is the problem with kids growing up--sometimes they're better at being adults than we are.
This afternoon, the votes are being counted and tomorrow night the announcement will be made and the 2014 Homecoming King and Queen will be crowned. Cade may or may not win, but both of us will be fine no matter the outcome. I have so much respect for him and I couldn't be prouder. Of course, I have an advantage over him. I know that in the scheme of life, homecoming court successes fade quickly. But Cade is teaching me that perseverance in the ups and downs of the daily grind will always be rewarded. Maybe not in being king for a day, but in the kind of life that matters.
This week we dropped Caleb off at his new life. Without us. But, frankly, its better that way.
Here are the top ten reasons why:
10. He was starting to like country music so we were going to have to kick him out eventually anyway
9. Cade no longer complains about how long it takes Caleb to get ready for school each morning
8. A gallon of milk goes farther (further?)
7. No wet, smelly towels left in the van after surfing
6. No more lengthy discussions about what college will be like
5. Those bulky surfboards are finally out of our garage
4. More hot water is available for showers in the morning
3. I only have to pay for one band trip this year (not sure we break even on that one)
2. The drums are silent
And the number one reason its better that he's gone is...(drum roll please)
No need to plan a birthday party for him this year.
And that's why I haven't gone a day without crying.
I have always loved school.
The day I graduated from college I wanted to go back. Each morning on my way to work and each evening on my drive home I passed my Alma Mater and the pit in my stomach would often bubble up into tears. Part of it was the mundaneness of my work and even the remote possibility that I might sit at that desk for the next 40 years. Adulthood was not what I'd thought. But mostly, I missed the classroom. Learning new things every day. Analyzing theories, discussing ideas and formulating opinions. I loved it when my brain hurt and when a concept clicked and when I was able to articulate a point clearly.
On the day of my graduation ceremony I requested the day off. I was working as a trainer at Discover Card and in the middle of a new hire class. Richard and I were newly married and he was unable to get the time off. It didn't matter. I donned my cap and gown and approached the arena with the sea of other graduates.
It all seemed so anticlimactic. A meaningless formality.
I was so alone and I couldn't hold back the tears of sadness and loss as I entered the building. While I watched other graduates pack up their cars to head back to their new, post-college life and what I assumed was a bright shiny new job or the opportunity to continue with their education, I headed back to work. The same job I had the day before. One that didn't require a college degree or a love of ideas.
Its not that I had any idea of what I wanted to do or what I would get my Masters in if I could go back. In one sense it wouldn't have mattered. Had I known then what I know now I would have just picked one and started the process. But I was still fairly fragile emotionally and wasn't able to identify what I wanted and even if I'd have known what I wanted I had not yet found my voice.
Richard and I agreed that he would complete his Masters and then I'd pursue mine. He knew what he wanted to do and he had a scholarship to move forward without any cost to us. It was a logical decision and I fully supported this path. The one downside was the length of the program. It was a 96 hour Masters, involving four years of study. But we were young and time seemed abundant.
Richard is smart and hard working and he completed his M. Div. in the time he promised. I'm the one who changed the program. By the end of his studies I was desperate to start a family. I knew that meant my Masters would have to wait. I had poor problem solving skills, was a black and white thinker and was struggling with depression. In my mind I only had a couple of options.
Looking back I think I could have made it work with just slightly more patience and emotional strength, but it was not to be. Soon I was pregnant with Caleb and my direction was set.
In one breath I will tell you I wish I'd pursued more education earlier in my life. But then I consider my years as a mother and its simply no contest. 'Mom' is my favorite title. My kids are such a source of joy and character building and amazement and learning! I postponed a piece of paper and traded it in for one of the greatest gifts of my life--parenting my kids. Not to mention that apparently I didn't need more formal education to accomplish all that God had for me to this point.
But now its time. This week I started my first class in my Masters program--Introduction to Spiritual Formation. I'm enrolled in a Masters in Spiritual Formation and Leadership at Spring Arbor University and am completing an online degree. Only 19 years after I originally intended to begin.
In his book, The Wonder of Girls, Michael Gurian suggests that one of the most important lessons we need to teach our daughters is the reality of choices. With the great strides made in opportunities for women, many of our girls are overwhelmed by their choices. And, they are mistakenly told that they can 'have it all'. They can have a successful career, a thriving marriage, be the perfect mom, a marathon runner and a wine connoisseur. All of those things might be possible, but not at the same time! Our girls need to know (and have modeled) how to make choices about what they want to excel in at different seasons of their life. Identifying their values, then learning to prioritize accordingly.
I've found this to be true in my own life and I hope Madison is watching. I may not be able to have it all. But I have all I need and more than I deserve! It was definitely worth the wait.
On a perfect sunny day last month, our eldest son walked across the stage and accepted his high school diploma. Of course, this is the best possible ending to his previous twelve years of education but it still left me with a gaping hole in my heart.
I have yet to cry, but sometimes I feel like I can't quite get a breath.
When you unleash a man like Caleb into the world, you're bound to get asked what you did right.
I wish I knew. To me, Caleb is a beautiful picture of redemption and grace and the sovereignty of God.
This isn't false humility. We did do some things right. For starters, we weren't drug dealers and we stayed out of jail. This is a very low bar, but you have to start somewhere. (Frankly, even that may have nothing to do with us. I'm too lazy to do the research, but I know I've read about people who've overcome great domestic difficulty to become outstanding citizens.)
I'm not saying parenting is a crap shoot (although it has that feel on many days), but I am saying there are no guarantees. I just know I want my son to be better than me. And in a great kindness, God has given me that gift. This selfish, broken, insecure mother happened to be entrusted with an exemplary child.
I was not too far into this whole parenting thing when I began to recognize my own neurosis in my children. Parts of me I thought I'd conquered or hidden or simply hadn't discovered yet began appearing in my children in the most distressing ways. Very early on my kids could tell you that at an intersection "red means stop. Yellow means slow. Green means go, go go!!!" People pleasing, creative responses to incriminating questions (a.k.a. lying), a deep need to be perceived as 'good', etc. all reflected my personal demons.
The reality of how my own imperfection, sin and unhealthiness affected my offspring was sometimes more than I could bear. But it was also motivation to keep moving toward Christlikeness. To submit myself to more pain and healing and feedback and scrutiny so I could model authenticity in the journey.
I made so many mistakes. Big ones and little ones. I have so many regrets. I wish I'd held Caleb more as an infant, but I was so committed to "doing it right" and the prevailing wisdom of the day was to help them gain a sense of self-reliance. I wish I would have sent more encouraging notes in his lunch box. But I rarely even made his lunch. I wish I'd have been more nurturing in painful situations, but mercy often escaped me when it was most required. And prayer? So anemic during the early years. And the middle years. I did try to make up for it in the last couple of years, but I'm not sure it really works that way.
And yet, like the pain of childbirth, these faux pas seem quickly forgotten by my son. I do expect some of this to come back during future counseling sessions (if only for the redemption my parents need for enduring my seasons of therapy), but for the time being, my mistakes seem to have been covered by a grace I don't deserve.
As a former Calvinette (if you don't know, don't ask...you probably wouldn't believe it anyway), I had to get in a reference to the theology of Sovereignty. I'm not going to provide a definition (feel free to Google it...there's plenty out there), but I will describe how it has played out in my parenting. Essentially it boils down to this: God is in control. He decides who he will use in what way. While all of our efforts and excuses as parents are noticed by God, he is not limited by our wisdom, idiocy, triumphs or failures. My acts of faith are counted as righteousness for me and my effort matters for eternity but it is not a formula for positive outcomes this side of Heaven. Bottom line--I am not in control.
And now for my next illusion...
People (at least 3 of them, anyway) have told me I should write a book about parenting. That's funny to me. The reality is God used motherhood to expose so much of my crap and I spent most of my energy digging out of depression, selfishness and fear. I read three books on parenting and about two hundred on personal growth and spiritual transformation. I don't think that's a great formula worth repeating, it just happened to be the unique journey God had for me. So, please, don't try this at home.
What I would invite you to do is celebrate with me the gift God has given to Richard and I in Caleb. How God has redeemed our personal and parenting inadequacies, given grace beyond measure and has blessed Caleb with a heart that seeks after Him, a desire to know Christ more intimately and live out the Gospel more fully. I have no illusions...this is not our accomplishment, but in God's design, we are recipients of a most wonderful gift in our son.
But let's be honest...I don't deserve this kid!
Kelli is a writer, speaker and consultant equipping leaders for a deepening intimacy with Christ, greater impact in ministry and more effective intentionality in all of life.
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